Picasso’s ‘Visage’ was auctioned off for 1.15 million RMB on Taobao art site
With each successive report, it seems as if the range of goods and services that are available for purchase on Taobao expands further and further into the realms of the bizarre, gag-inducing, and sometimes just plain embarrassing. However, the latest report from the Wall Street Journal tells us that China’s largest e-commerce marketplace is attempting to cross over into the more legitimate sector of fine art. Oh Taobao — you fancy now, huh?
According to the report, last week Chinese buyers managed to purchase both a painting by Picasso and a sculpture by Salvador Dali entirely on Paimai, an art auction site recently set up by Taobao. With both objects starting at the initial bid of 1 yuan, the Picasso eventually sold for 1.15 million yuan ($180,000 USD) and the Dali went for 357,001 (almost $60,000 USD). Both works were provided through Paimi by the Bevery Hills-based Galerie Michael, who confirmed that “Chinese customers purchased the works and put them up for auction on the site, but said it had no direct involvement in the auction.”
Xin Yu, Paimai’s manager, said in an interview with local Chinese media that “Chinese buyers have been increasingly paying attention to Western art,” and the establishment of Paimai shows Taobao’s plans to “introduce the works of Picasso and other masters to online auctions to attract more attention to Internet auctioning.” Of course, Internet auctioning is a relatively new phenomenon, beginning at around 2006 when Christie’s first started allowing users to both watch auctions live and make their own bids online.
One advantage that Paimai/Taobao has over other online art auction sites like Christie’s is that it tends to charge a much smaller commission per piece than the typical 15% or more charged by international auction houses.
According to France-based research firm Artprice, China has consistently been the world’s top art buyer for the past four years, spending more than $4 billion USD in sales last year alone. In an interview with China Economic Review, director Xie Dingwei of Shanghai Tix Media (the company that organized the recent Monet show in Shanghai) spoke of China’s burgeoning middle-class affinity for art consumption: “People around 18 to 30 usually spend money on leisure rather than buying art books or exhibition tickets. But this is changing now,” said Xie, referring to the “huge” investment in the Monet exhibition.
Hu Yixun, professor at the Fine Arts college of Shanghai University, shares Mr. Xie’s optimism: “I think it’s a process of education and popularization of art appreciation. People can learn to appreciate art gradually starting by following the trend…Can we assume that when this young generation reach their forties or fifties and have a middle-class income, they are very likely to become the main buyers in art consumption? Logically and optimistically, this should be the case.”
Whether or not China’s growing interest in fine art consumption will successfully cross over into an online marketplace notoriously rife with fake products, however, might prove to be a different story.
By Alex Stevens